French Silent Letters and Pronunciation

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One of the difficulties with French pronunciation is that it is not a phonetic language. A phonetic language (e.g., Spanish, Arabic) is one in which each letter has a single corresponding sound; in other words, spelling matches the pronunciation. Other languages, like French and English, are not phonetic: they have letters that can be pronounced in different ways or sometimes not at all. 

There are three categories of silent letters in French.

  • E muet / Elision
  • H muet and aspiré
  • Final consonants

This lesson will focus on final consonants; follow the links to the right for detailed explanations of the silent letters E and H.

The basic rule of French pronunciation is that the final consonant is not pronounced, but there are many exceptions, which are what this lesson is about.*

The letters B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R are usually pronounced at the end of a word. Tip: Since B, K, and Q are rare as final consonants, some people find it helpful to use the word CaReFuL to remember the most common of the usually pronounced final consonants.

Usually pronounced Some exceptions*
B le Maghreb
un snob
un club
le plomb
C un truc
un flic
un estomac, un tabac, le porc
nasal vowel + c: un banc, blanc
F actif
un chef
un oeuf
un nerf, une clef, oeufs
K un anorak
un look
le bifteck
L il
un hôtel
un bol
gentil, outil; vowel + -il: à l'appareil, un oeil

The other French consonants are usually silent at the end of a word, with some exceptions. Tip: Many exceptions are proper names or words borrowed from other languages.

Usually silent Some exceptions*
D froid
sud; Proper names: David, Alfred
G le sang
le grog
M, N un
Latin words: amen, forum
P un drap
un champ
un slip, un cap
S exprès
un fils, un autobus, le tennis
T et
brut, ouest, huit; -ct ending: direct, strict; -pt ending: concept, sept
X deux
un prix
un époux
six, index, Aix
Z chez
le riz
le gaz

Note: The words plus and tout have their own pronunciation rules.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "French Silent Letters and Pronunciation." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Team, ThoughtCo. (2023, April 5). French Silent Letters and Pronunciation. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "French Silent Letters and Pronunciation." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).